The Development and Importance of the FARM/BQA Partnership: Q&A With Emily Meredith

by Chase DeCoite, Associate Director, Beef Quality Assurance, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff

Emily Meredith is the Vice President of Animal Care for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) in Arlington, VA. Her primary responsibilities lie in the areas of animal welfare, dairy farm management, animal health and food chain outreach.
Emily manages the National Dairy FARM ProgramTM, which assures consumers that milk and other products from American dairy farms are the end result of responsible animal care practices. She also focuses on other education and training modules that are identified as part of the FARM program, and assists in other areas of the regulatory department such as biosecurity and residue avoidance.  

Beef Issues Quarterly (BIQ): What is the FARM program?

Emily Meredith (EM): The Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program is the dairy industry’s comprehensive animal care program. The program began in 2009 as a way to assure our dairy customers that animal care is a top priority for dairy farmers nationwide.

BIQ: How is FARM implemented on dairies?

EM: The program encompasses three core pillars: (1) producer education and best management practices; (2) second-party evaluation and (3) third-party verification. The best management practices are contained in our Animal Care Reference Manual and those guidelines are updated every three years based on the latest research and recommendations from industry experts. 

The guidelines then correspond with evaluation points. Evaluations are performed by trained, second-party evaluators and the program requires that dairies are evaluated at minimum every three years. We then ensure the integrity of the program by conducting third-party verification on a representative number of dairies each year.
I recommend watching our new animated video that describes this process in greater detail.

The video is available on our website: nationaldairyfarm.com.

BIQ: How has the FARM program been received by dairy farmers and the industry as a whole?

EM: What we work hard to communicate is the “why” behind the program. More and more consumers are hungry for information about where their food comes from and we have to provide them those answers so that they continue to trust us and give us the social license to raise animals for food. 

While some farmers might not agree with every recommendation contained in the program, the vast majority understand that we need hard facts and figures to back up our strong track record of the highest animal care. We can’t just say “trust us” to consumers anymore, we have to provide concrete proof points.

BIQ: What benefits have you observed with the increased uptake of FARM?

EM: We’re seeing a very high adherence to many of the benchmarks in the program. For example, in 2015 more than 96 percent of evaluated dairies met our guideline on body condition (99 percent of dry and lactating animals score two or more on the FARM Program scale). We’re seeing farmers that are writing down protocols, performing procedures earlier and phasing out controversial practices like tail docking. There are many examples where the FARM Program is starting conversations about how we can continue to do things better in the dairy industry and that’s really positive.

BIQ: Describe the collaboration between the Beef Checkoff BQA program and National Milk’s FARM program?

EM: Well, dairy cows become beef at the end of their lives so it’s critical that we find ways to work together to ensure the highest quality beef supply possible. There are many synergies between BQA and the FARM Program and our collaboration has centered on identifying our similarities and working to maximize those. Both our programs are heavily focused around continuous improvement and producer education, and because of our collaboration dairy producers will have access to a lot more great resources over the next few years. It’s exciting!

BIQ: Describe the latest FARM revision process and what updates were made to the program?

EM: The FARM Program is updated every three years through a very comprehensive process that involves a Technical Writing Group, a subcommittee of the NMPF Board of Directors and a public comment process. It takes approximately one year to revise the program. 

As we move from the current version (version 2.0) to Version 3.0, we’ll be making significant edits to our Dairy Beef components of the program, including working with BQA to include additional resources and references in Chapter 10 of our Animal Care Manual. Some of the larger changes will focus on fitness for transport, treatment of special needs cattle, and proper administration of injectables. 
We’re also adding in some additional accountability measures to the Program overall, based on feedback received from many of our large dairy customers.

BIQ: How has FARM been strengthened by incorporating Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) principles?

EM: Some of the strongest aspects of BQA are its commitment to stockmanship and stewardship. It’s strengthened FARM immeasurably to be able to incorporate these resources and to work together to create new training modules and reference materials for the FARM Program participants to access and use.

BIQ:  How can BQA support extension of the FARM program?

EM: In version 3.0 of the FARM Program, there will be an even greater focus on employee training and education. I think this will be a great opportunity for BQA state coordinators to help provide training opportunities for dairy cooperatives and FARM participating organizations in every state where dairy is a key agricultural commodity.

BIQ: In what areas do you envision the FARM and BQA programs being able to collaborate further in the future?

EM: The sky’s the limit—I think the partnership between the two programs has a bright future. We’ll continue to make headway this year for sure—and hopefully for many years to come.

 

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Questions and Answers, Spring 2016

March 21, 2016